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The Smokies: Backwoods-Style

Here's your insider's guide to The Great Smokies, probably the epitome of a true backpacker's national park.

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Books and maps: Books on every aspect of the Smokies’ human and natural history, as well as hiking guides, are available through the Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association (115 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738; 865-436-0120; fax: 865-436-6884; www.nps.gov/grsm/nhahome.htm.). The sole purpose of this nonprofit organization is to support the park. Members receive a newsletter, information on special activities, and discounts on books and other items.

Two resources every Smokies backcountry hiker should have:

Hiking Trails of the Smokies (aka “the Little Brown Book”), by Great Smoky Mountains Natural History Association ($16.95). It’s small but complete and provides detailed trail descriptions and trail profiles. It also includes a basic color map showing all trails and backcountry campsites.

Trails Illustrated GSMNP (#229) map (800-962-1643; $9.95) shows topography, shelters, and trail mileage.

Backcountry campsites: Call the Smokies backcountry office (865-436-1297, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., eastern time; open every day). Be persistent, because it can be hard to get through. Once you do, you’re likely to talk to a volunteer who’s trodden most of the park’s trails and who will be happy to recommend routes and help you plan a trip. Most campsites rely on self-registration at visitor centers or ranger stations; shelters and rationed sites require reservations. To reserve a space up to 30 days in advance, call (865) 436-1231, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.; open daily.

Food/supplies: Apart from the developed campgrounds, which offer potable water and flush toilets, there are no concessions-not even showers-inside the park. Stock up on everything in Gatlinburg or Cherokee.

Resources: Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 107 Park Headquarters Rd., Gatlinburg, TN 37738; (865) 436-1200; www.nps.gov/grsm/.

Friends of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, 130 West Bruce St., Suite 1, Sevierville, TN 37862; (800) 845-5665; www.friendsofthesmokies.org. This nonprofit organization contributes some $300,000 to the park annually for projects ranging from backcountry shelter restoration to improving frontcountry facilities. “This is the best way to make a difference,” says park spokesperson Nancy Gray. “You can earmark your contribution to go toward your project of interest.”

Smoky Mountains Hiking Club, P.O. Box 1454, Knoxville, TN 37901; www.pageright.com/smhc.

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